Diageo, being the massive industrial giant that it is, bends to the will of the whisky-geek masses with only a single extra-matured release from each of its “Classic Malts” distilleries. While some smaller distilleries release single casks and experimental vattings in what seems like a flurry, Diageo claims that the extra overhead and effort involved in special releases is simply too much to bother with, and so they stick to the Distiller’s Editions to satisfy those customers interested in a little something different. The DE releases are by no means trivial – the Lagavulin one is usually a vatting of between 300 and 400 casks – but this is small peanuts to a company primarily concerned with the annual manufacturing and distribution of 130 million bottles of Johnnie Walker.
After the usual 16 years in primarily American oak casks, the Lagavulin malt destined for Distiller’s Edition spends some additional time (somewhere between 6 months and 2 years, varying every year) in Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry butts, each containing around 300 liters of spirit. The bottle I sampled at K&L was distilled in 1995.
Nose: Raisin up front, with a mild background of peat. Dried fruits, fruitwood smoke. Black currants. Green sap, with a hint of banana?
Palate: Clearly sherried, with lots of concentrated dark fruits, but now the peat I was missing in the nose comes through with nice balance. Smooth!
Finish: Overly sweet, with the usual cast of sherry characters. The peat gets somewhat lost.
With Water: A drop of water reveals a sulfury reek of banana peel, which dissipates, but not before I resolve to avoid the water with this one.
Overall: Okay. Yeah, it’s aged in PX sherry, which is a big deal, but… this particular expression falls short with me. The palate has a nice balance of fruit and smoke, but the sherry overwhelms the traditional Lagavulin character (which I would have said was hard to do) on the nose and finish. Also, despite the extra time in barrel, there’s not a lot of wood character. I’d stick to the 16, and get my sherry kick elsewhere. I’ll probably get some flack for this one, since lots of people love it. I’m a big fan of Lagavulin, but this DE just didn’t resonate with me.
If anything is going to overwhelm a hefty malt, it’s PX sherry. I have a bottle of East India Solera sherry that’s ~85% oloroso and ~15% PX. The PX sweetness is already getting to be a bit much at that point, so I can only imagine what the uncut stuff is like.
I guess I’m in the camp that thinks the DE is slightly better than the standard Lag 16. I think the sherry adds some interesting complexity that complements the relatively subdued peat of Lag 16.
I think Lag 16 is fine, but I would not pick it over it’s younger brother Lagavulin 12 or over other peated scotches like Laphroaig Quarter Cask or Talisker 10. However, the more I sample Lagavulin DE the more I think I like it just as much as my favorite sherried Islay Uigeadail.
I like the DE so much I bought two bottles of it this year. No mean feat, for this stuff isn’t cheap.
It’s true that the PX sherry does overwhelm the peat to an extent, but I see that as a feature, not a bug. Perhaps it’s due to Lagavulin’s famously slow distillation process, but I’ve always found the standard 16YO to be somewhat one dimensional, in spite of how well it is made. The peat in the 16 seems to get reduced to a fungal smoke that almost overwhelms the delicious, silky, oaken malt. This is toned down and tamed somewhat by the sherry fruit in the DE.
The way some of you describe this, it could be a close cousin of my favorite whiskey of all time, Dowmore Darkest Islay 15 year old. Now changed its name to Bowmore 15-year old.
I’m a big fan of sweeter whiskeys, and a whiskey is too. I have indulged in a drop or two of sugar or Drambuie. If it’s a shite whiskey I simply mix it with sweetened tea.
How’s that for “recycling!”